Posts tagged ‘Nonfiction Monday’

The Underground Abductor

Underground Abductor.jpgTitle: The Underground Abductor
Series: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5
Author/Illustrator: Nathan Hale
ISBN: 9781419715365
Pages: 128 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2015.

“Robert, Ben, Henry, We are leavin’. We’re goin’ NORTH. This Saturday night.”
“Why Saturday?”
“Nobody expects slaves to work on Sunday—we’ll have a whole day’s lead.”
“Who’s gonna lead the way?”
“I will. I’ll follow the North Star.”
“That’s your plan? You’re gonna follow a STAR?”
“That’s right, I’ll follow that star like Moses followed the Pillar of Fire.” (45)

Araminta Ross was born into slavery, and “by the time she was ten, Araminta had been hired out many times, and had the scars to prove it.” She lived with her six siblings and her mother, while her father worked at a neighboring lumber mill. Upon hearing of her impending sale, she makes her first attempt at escaping with her brother’s, but they get scared and return with her in tow. So the second time, she makes the trip by herself, securing herself a new life in Philadelphia and along with it a new name, Harriet Tubman. But she can’t forget those family members she left behind, and begins regular trips south to escort not only family but other slaves to freedom, first to Pennsylvania and then all the way to Canada. This is her story, told in graphic novel format, of the difficulties she faced and how she rightfully became a recognizable name in American history.

This was my first experience with Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, although it is the fifth one in the series. It appears that Nathan Hale, the American Revolutionary spy, is set to being executed and is stalling his death by weaving stories from American history, Scheherazade style, to his executioners. Interruptions from his executioners ask the contextual questions and garners the answers that readers unfamiliar with this story might have, like who is Franklin Douglass, how did slavery work, and why was what Harriet did so dangerous. The only spot of color in the black, white, and gray illustrations is purple, which starts off pale and then intensifies as the dangers increase and the war creeps closer. Readers familiar with Harriet Tubman’s efforts will learn tiny details that may be new, like her birth name and the closed head injury she suffers as a child and the fact that family members (both immediate and extended) helped her evacuation efforts. Hale presents the tale with an immediacy and urgency that mimics the mood that must have permeated Tubman’s raids.

Details like how many times she went across to help her family, how many people she would take in different abductions, and how she kept everyone safe also help readers realize her commitment to the cause. There is a sense of spiritualism, garnered from Harriet’s visions, which are attributed to her head injury but are portrayed as being astonishingly helpful and accurate. Her life isn’t sugarcoated, revealing the whippings she received and the abandonment of her husband, and Hale is refreshingly upfront and honest when he doesn’t know the answers or the true facts. This is an accessible introduction to the abolitionist, and to the concept of the Underground Railroad and slavery.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

 

Drowned City

Drowned City.jpgTitle: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
ISBN: 9780544157774
Pages: 96 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2015.

“Monday, August 29
The hurricane’s strength slips from category 5 to category 3. But it is still a monster, measuring four hundred miles across, with 121-mph winds. At the last moment, Katrina “wobbles” and steers a bit east of New Orleans, sparing the city a direct hit.” (12)

Published to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this slim volume starts before the storm and continues its coverage of the storm through the immediate aftermath.With a critical eye towards the efforts of various governments and agencies to react, he draws from multiple sources to use the words of those immediately affected by the disaster. While the city is still attempting to rebuild, and will probably continue their efforts into the foreseeable future, it’s an eye-opening account aimed at children who weren’t even alive when it happened.

Don Brown’s illustrations (which I’m told on the copyright page are “pen and ink with digital paint”) are the most affecting part of this story. Brown wisely lets the pictures tell most of the story. The double paged spread (which is divided into two panels so as to avoid loosing any of it in the bleed) on pages 30-31 is just one example. Simply narrated with “People fight the flood. Some succeed. Others do not.” readers’ eyes are arrested by the single body sinking under the water as others struggle for gasping breaths and rooftop rescuers struggle to pull them to safety. An earlier set of four panels, vertically stacked, show flip-book style a wave crashing into the town of Buras, Louisiana, with only the water tower remaining. You see the pictures and the devastation before being reassured that, in this case, “The townspeople have all evacuate and no one dies.” Those are just two of many examples of the arresting artwork and well-placed text blocks. The cover is stamped that a “Portion of the proceeds from this book has been donated to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.” Hopefully the funds will be put to good use. Pair with the earlier reviewed Finding Someplace, as many of that main character’s fictionalized experiences are detailed in this emotionally moving graphic novel. Highly recommended.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

The Rain Wizard

Rain Wizard.jpgTitle: The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
Author: Larry Dane Brimner
ISBN: 9781590789902
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, c2015 (Larry Dane Brimner, Trustee, Brimner-Gregg Trust)

On December 15, 1904, he set up his cloud-attracting apparatus on the grounds of Esperanza Sanitarium, a hospital for people with lung diseases. […] The hospital was located in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles, near Altadena. Rain began to fall almost immediately and continued through Christmas. […]
Soon, though, local newspapers were pleading with him to give them a dry, sunny day on Monday, January 2, 1905, so the annual Tournament of Roses Parade could go on as scheduled in Pasadena. When rain fell in the morning but cleared in time for the parade, organizers publicly expressed thanks. (38-39)

Charles Hatfield was not the first to claim that he could control the weather, and bring down rain from the sky during a drought. Rather than using the war paint and rain dances of Native American tribes, or the ringing of bells like eighteenth century English towns, Hatfield used a secretive mix of heated chemicals. To this day, no one knows what he used or has concrete evidence that it even worked, but he succeeded in making a name for himself as a Rain Wizard or conjurer for a decade. His techniques might have proven too successful when an attempt to fill a San Diego reservoir at the request of the city resulted in the 1916 flood that resulted in death, damage, and destruction, including washing houses and train tracks away. Was Hatfield responsible for the rain, and if so was he then responsible for the damages it caused?

Having never heard of Charles Hatfield, it was a unique person to feature in a biography. Readers though will be left scratching their heads, as Brimner, like the people who actually lived during that time, is unable to answer the question of if he actually made it rain or not. There is no known record of Hatfield’s secret formula, so curious readers will be unable to replicate the results. However, based on the inclusion of rainmakers who came before and after Hatfield, and details about their methods, it seems a safe conclusion that there is some truth to the practice of both rain making future efforts to collect moisture from the sky.

I must say I was slightly taken aback by Brimner’s inclusion of a Wikipedia site in his list of resources for readers looking for more information. I showed it to several coworkers and they were equally flummoxed by the inclusion. Our assumption is that he was merely including easily obtained and readily available resources. For someone who went to the effort of tracking down the family descendants and first hand newspaper accounts of the events, we were shocked that he would even mention a website that is not vetted or reliably credible and is routinely frowned upon by teachers when assigning research projects to their students. Especially when his works cited and photo credits lists are so thorough, although I do question the necessity of quoting a reference librarian’s email in describing the state of things at that time. Brimner even talks about the inaccuracy of first hand accounts in his author’s note, so maybe he is stressing that no source is one hundred percent reliable. It is definitely a shock to my system that an author who has received recognition with starred reviews and a Sibert Honor would stoop to referencing Wikipedia and casts a shadow on what I felt was a well presented narrative on a little-known and still-disputed event.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

 

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings

Enchanted Air.jpgTitle: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Author: Margarita Engle
ISBN: 9781481435222
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

In one country, I hear the sweet words of another.
Dulce de leche means sweet of milk.
Guarapo is sugarcane juice.

At home in California, when I speak
boastful English, I can say that I fly,
but when I make the same claim in Spanish,
I have to say: voy por avion
I go by airplane

Two countries.
Two families.
Two sets of words.

Am I free to need both,
or will I always have to choose
only one way
of thinking? (13)

Margarita’s mother is from Cuba, and her father’s family is Ukraine. For a while they travel from Cuba to the United States and back, visiting family and a whole new culture and world in Cuba. But then conflicts between her two homes flare, and her family is unable to travel back to Cuba. In the beginning, her family is observed and questioned, but as the hostility continues Margarita can’t understand the animosity present, and how her fellow Americans are uneducated and unaffected, since she is privy to a wholly different perspective.

This is another book I have a hard time envisioning recommending to someone unless they had a special interest in autobiographies, prejudices, and the Cuban/American tensions. The word choices and verses are powerfully brief in nature, and fans of Brown Girl Dreaming may also enjoy this novel. But this is essentially a travelogue without any travel. Starting with some prettily portrayed trips, the second half details the prejudice and trials that the family faces. Instead, she waxes reflectively on idealized travels to Cuba in her childhood, where she rides horses with her cousins and juxtaposes them with the horrors of a closed Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion. It’s an eye-opening portrayal and certainly one that is relevant in the recent reopening of relations with Cuba by President Barack Obama, but not one that is discussed in-depth in schools, a disparity that is ironically addressed in the book itself and will impact and contribute to its obscurity. I can’t end this review without commenting that the cover is horrible, with a symbolic dove overlaid by half an illustrated face, and not at all appealing.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

 

My Leaf Book

My Leaf BookTitle: My Leaf Book
Author/Illustrator: Monica Wellington
ISBN: 9780803741416
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, published by the Penguin Group, LLC., c2015

So many trees, so many leaves.
When the trees change colors, autumn is here,
and I go to the park to see
how many different leaves I can find.

A young girl visits an arboretum with her dog over the course of several days collects leaves and creates an informational book. Wellington specifies in an author’s note that the pictures were made with collages and did not use a computer, which makes the detailed, boldly colored and textured pictures all the more interesting. It’s almost unbelievable how much time that must have taken her to accomplish, which proves how involved artists are with their work. She reveals her methods at the end, so kids can try making leaf prints and rubbings for their own book. Each leaf is identified and has an accompanying fact or two, with the leaf shape accompanying the name so when multiples appear on a page there is no confusion which is which. A little long for toddler story time, but share with preschoolers or older children. When used in a story time, I cut up this leaf bingo sheet from the blog Relentlessly Fun Deceptively Educational (LOTS of great stuff to be found there!) and distributed so parents had a quick and convenient reference guide and could go home and identify their own trees. Keep this on your list of fall books and recommend to patrons.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky VicTitle: Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9780670016525
Pages: 39 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

“Victor” was a convincing count: exceedingly well dress, soft spoken, and always with lots of money to spare at the game tables. Once the ship docked and the passengers disembarked, “Count Lustig” would disappear, along with their money. (5)

“Count Victor Lustig” was the alias of Robert Miller, a man born in the Czech Republic who didn’t stay in one place for very long. He traveled around the world playing people for their money, from his home country to America, Europe, and back again, earning the respect of Al Capone before finally getting caught and imprisoned in Alcatraz. Two popular cons were either selling a money making box to an unsuspecting person or simply counterfeiting the money directly. His most well-known con however was selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, a trick that proved so successful that he attempted it a second time.

Little is known with certainty about Robert Miller, and Pizzoli makes that clear in his author’s note. Teachers will also appreciate a glossary of terms, an extensive works cited list, and a word about the artwork. The effort to include primary sources within the illustrations, like Miller’s death certificate, should also be highlighted if used in a classroom. There’s some light symbolism in the use of a finger print in place of Miller’s face in every illustration, which was a distinctive but very effective method of obscuring his identity but still allude to the criminal nature of his work (being fingerprinted when arrested) and his unique fabricated identity and business (since all fingerprints are different). Adults might be interested to seek out more information, but this is a succinct narrative and an age-appropriate introduction to the idea of con artists, fakes, and double crosses.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

I’m Trying to Love Spiders

I'm Trying to Love SpidersTitle: I’m Trying to Love Spiders
Author/Illustrator: Bethany Barton
ISBN: 9780670016938
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

Like this spider right here. I’m gonna try really hard to like him. Maybe if I study him for a while… I think it’s working… AHHHHHH!! It’s Moving!! Squish it!! Squish it!! Squish it!!

The author of this book realizes that it is not easy to love spiders, but it’s the thought that counts, right? After trying to focus on the many amazing features of spiders, such as having eight eyes, they are related to scorpions and ticks, and there are more than 40,000 different species. The only fact that proves helpful in seeing spiders in a new light is they’re ability to eat over 75 pounds of bugs in a year, which gets immediately tested when it tries to rid the pages of the book of other bugs. But by then, there are other problems, and they go by the name COCKROACH!

Nonfiction in the form of a picture book, this subgenre really is underutilized by the story time providers, including myself. So when I saw a coworker using this one for her story time, I just had to take a peak. The one tiny wish I have for this was that there was some indication of whether all the spiders drawn in the book were true to scale or not. That would have been most beneficial. Over a dozen spiders are identified on the end papers and inside the book which imparts bite-sized facts about these bugs. The interactive element is an added bonus, and one that certainly appeals to kids, as I had a story time child steal it from my table and was stomping on the bug pictures as I read the next book! So whether it promotes a love for bugs or just a love for smashing them, either way you are educated and can make an informed rather than instinctive decision. Right?

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